(c) What Doesn't Kill us, Makes us Stronger [G]

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(c) What Doesn't Kill us, Makes us Stronger [G]

Post by she had the world. on Sat 20 Sep 2008, 6:12 pm


Title:What Doesn't Kill us, Makes us Stronger
Rating: G
Author: moi.
Type: One shot. Auto-Bio.
Notes: This was written about my time as an exchange student to Denmark in 2006. It was originally written for the Saints of 'Meeba'

- - -
Eighteen years is a short lifetime. Itís barely a lifetime at all, because my life has only just begun. But in the last four years of the eighteen Iíve lived, thereís been so much Iíve felt and experienced.

I wonít lie about my past, and I wonít pretend that what I did was wrong or right. I was diagnosed with childhood depression after raging hormones at the age of fourteen, I came close to suicide. Death by pillow. Funny. It had seemed like an easier escape from the clutches of my personal nightmares and weight issues that had haunted me...I still remember the bullying, and the hurt. That pillow had provided an escape when I was too afraid to slice my wrists with the blade of a knife- I fear sharp objects.
To be honest, suicide and depression is nothing.

The hardest thing I have ever done was board a plane to another country.
It sounds so easy right? Wrong.

Put yourself in my shoes. I was sixteen years old; it had been a full year since Iíd escaped my nightmares and dropped the weight I hated. I had new friends after a year in my new home, I was happy. But there was something missing, I needed something more.

A twelve month cultural student exchange in Denmark ought to do the trick.

I donít know why I did it, and I still donít.

With no idea of what to expect in my year ahead, I boarded that plane without any second thought. The promise of an exciting experience in a foreign country had seduced my naive mind into believing it would be easy.

I should have known that day I landed on the white snow covered fields of the Danish countryside, when there was no one at the airport to pick me up. Maybe it was a sign when both host and counsellor got arrival pick up spots mixed and were waiting for me to get off a train in another town on that freezing cold January day. It wasnít until I unpacked my bags that night, with a continuous stream of tears cascading down my cheeks that I realised what I had done. My parents, my family, my friends; everything I knew and loved, I had abandoned on the other side of the world and it would be twelve months until I would see them again. January 2007 was an eternity away as fear and loneliness quickly set in that night, and they wouldnít be going anywhere soon.

Over the twelve months, I was to live with three different host families who had opened their homes to me so that I could experience firsthand the Danish culture. I was to attend the local school of the small town I lived in named Vejen, population 8,000+. I cried that first day of school in front of my entire class, absolutely terrified of them as they rambled off words in a language I didnít understand; let alone speak. The English teacher I had told me that my class were not a typical Danish class where everyone got along with one another, they had their own cliques and were extremely divided within themselves. This only made bridging that barrier between us harder.
I felt unnoticed for the first six months. They knew I was there; they were just either too scared to speak English and start conversation or not interested in the terrified Australian girl who sat in the corner of their classroom barely speaking at all.
If school wasnít hard enough, my first host family made it worse. They were farmers, wealthy farmers- snobs to the core. Everything started out okay, until they started telling me I should go out more. How could I go out when I didnít know anybody?

I longed for my friends, for some comfort of home and to feel like I belonged, to have people I could communicate with when these young Danes were so different to me. I began attending a language school in a town nearby where I was schooled in the Danish language with fourteen other students, seven of which Australian. For the first time since home I had contact with my culture, and with people who were going through the same experience I was. It was so much easier to befriend an exchange student than a Dane; they knew how hard it was to try and pick up and learn this alien culture we had no idea about. They became my support network, each of us was there for one another.

But as my language picked up, my situation in my host family became worse. Their son had been on exchange to South Africa the year before and the common term I heard from my host mother was; ďWhen Neils was in South Africa...Ē I didnít give a fuck about South Africa. South Africa was not Denmark, and Neils was Danish- not Australian. They were two different place and two different cultures, she had no right to compare my exchange to his when all she knew about it was the words her own son had told her.

My host mother had a tendency to ask me about life in Australia and our culture, but then pull a face when I answered them. She once asked me what we had for lunch, I replied with ďA Sandwich.Ē When she asked what that was, I explained, and she looked at me like I was a complete freak when Iíd finished. She was like this, extremely judgemental. She did not want to learn about my culture, and it hurt when someone disrespects you like that. It wasnít my fault I was born in Australia and grew up the way I did.

Things got worse. As an exchange student, people were constantly watching and judging you on how you acted and behaved. You had to be a good ambassador for your country. My relationship with my host family became sour as we found more and more indifferences between us. I was not like them, and they wouldnít accept my culture. I wanted my mother more than anything, I had felt so alone. That family didnít care about me missing home, they told me I had to get over it and move on. I wanted human contact, I needed a hug from my mother, but all I had was her voice attempting to reassure me down a phone line. By the end of my first four months I was going to bed at 7pm nightly, just to avoid the family I lived with as I cried myself to sleep, longing for home and something familiar. Never before had I craved human contact like I did when I lived as a constant nuisance in that house, I was alone.

I felt so isolated. My hosts made me wish I was back home. My Danish class barely knew me. All I had was an internet connection; a phone line and those few Australian students who Iíd only just met but would hug me and try to reassure me that weíd get through it together. A friend from home had told me early on that Ďyou canít rely on anyone but yourself,í and I would soon learn how important his advice had been.

By the end of my stay with host family number one, I finally got the courage to tell my counsellor how unhappy I was in their home and she managed to transfer me to my second family only a week ahead of schedule. My second host mother became my rock through my six month, she was my second mother. She would hug me when I cried, she referred to me as her daughter and for the first time in my exchange I felt wanted. And as things improved with my host family, they got worse with my Danish class. I had gone away over the summer on a trip to around Europe with all the other Rotary exchange students in Denmark at the time and unfortunately, did not have the means to stay in contact with the few Danes I knew. When I returned after the summer I felt unwanted in the classroom, as if I was one big burden. Speaking to me meant that they had to speak English because I was not fluent in Danish- it was easier to pretend I wasnít there.
I started to become extremely depressed about going back to school on a daily basis, when all I did was sit in a classroom understanding very little and hardly speaking. I cried to my counsellor about my problems, and about how isolated I felt without really making solid friendships at school. I was so lonely, so upset that I was on the verge of returning home early when one day my counsellor turned to me and told me; ďChelsea. Those students donít know what youíre going through, they donít need you. They have their friends; they have their families while yours are on the other side of the world. Itís you that needs them, and only you can change things.Ē


I still remember her telling me that, and she was right. The next day I did the most courageous and stupidest thing Iíve ever done in my life. I got up in front of my entire class and told them that I wanted to be their friends, that I was trying, and that I wish they would give me a chance. I did this because my counsellor had been right. Nothing was going to change unless I changed it myself, and I couldnít keep crying about it. I had to force myself into their lives; because they didnít need me, I was the one who needed them when everything I knew and everybody who understood and knew me where so, so, so far away. So thatís what I did.

Things improved after that. I made friends with my class, I moved to my third host family who were supportive and tried helping me as much as they could. Accepting their culture became so much easier as I settled, and as I learnt about them and their values and attitudes. It was so different to everything I knew. I missed my home less, and I was beginning to love my time in Denmark. But as the saying goes, time flies when youíre having fun. My first eight months had been so hard, but my last four had gone so quickly and had taught me to love Denmark and everything it had to offer.

My exchange had given me something that I never would have learnt otherwise. I learnt more about myself, who I was and how I thought. I learnt to go out of my comfort zone and it taught me to think differently about everything. I learnt not to judge, and to see the world on a broader perspective. I realised how easy I had it at home, and how much I took for granted. I also learnt the important lesson that I had control of my life and that I was the only person who could change it.
But most of all- I came a close as I ever will to true loneliness. When all the people who knew and understand you were so far away, and there was no reassuring hug or familiar smells to comfort you when youíre upset.

I will never be able to find the exact words to sum up all the feelings I experienced as an exchange student, because there is too much. Many people say, ďYou can never understand what itís like to be an exchange student, unless youíve done it for yourself.Ē And that is completely true. I walked away from my life in Australia not knowing what to expect or what Iíd experience, and I came home as a better and wiser person.

It was the hardest thing Iíve ever had to do, but I know now that nothing could ever be as hard or as emotionally challenging as that was. When Iím upset or down, I can look back on my time overseas and reassure myself that nothing could be as bad ever again. If I survived exchange, I felt like I could do anything.

Exchange is a journey within you more than anything.

I never regret it, no matter what I went through.
What doesnít kill us, only makes us stronger.


checked: wasteland.

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Re: (c) What Doesn't Kill us, Makes us Stronger [G]

Post by belle of the boulevard. on Sat 20 Sep 2008, 7:08 pm

i love you chelsea.
and those first few months put me off exchange altogether. -_-
but -sends you several huge mega snugs to make up for the time missed-
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